Music and Copyright

Music is also copyrighted material. Separate copyrights exist for musical performances, recordings, and sheet music. Additional copyrights may exist for the lyrics. Vendors usually sell sheet music in sets (e.g. band sets, chorus sets, etc.): hence, single copies may not be available, but can be ordered directly from the publisher.

Sheet Music

Fair use guidelines authorize limited copying and altering of sheet music. They also authorize recording student performances. What can be copied in accordance with the circumstances follows:

  • For a performance, emergency copying is permitted so long as replacement copies are subsequently purchased.
  • Academic purposes other than performance (single copies for personal or library reserve use). An entire performable unit (section, movement, aria, etc.) if the unit is out of print or only available in a larger work.
  • Multiple copies for classroom use (non-performance use), where excerpts may comprise no more than 10 percent of a whole work and may not constitute a performable unit.
  • For musical recordings, a single copy may be made for the purpose of constructing aural exercises or examinations. Otherwise the restrictions on the copying non-music recordings apply.

Music Performed Live

When music is performed live and on campus, the performance is subject to Luther's public performance guidelines.  This includes music played during sporting events. 


Public display and performance of copyrighted works, such as recordings, in the classroom or in an online teaching environment is covered under Section 110 of US Copyright Law.

When pre-recorded music is played outside of the classroom there is not only a performance of the musical work but also the particular recording. Under copyright law, however, the owner of a copyright in a musical recording, as distinct from copyright owner of the underlying composition, does not have the exclusive right to perform the record publicly. Therefore, when pre-recorded music is performed, only the performance of the underlying composition need be analyzed under the statutory provisions governing performances to ensure compliance with the copyright law.

On the other hand, the owner of a copyright in a musical recording does have the exclusive right to reproduce the recording. Therefore, when pre-recorded music is copied, for example by making a tape of a song on a compact disc, the exclusive rights of both the owner of the copyright in the recording and the owner of the copyright in the composition may be infringed.